How to Give a Good Scientific Presentation

by Peter Frame (I lost the full reference, sorry)

You're up next to give your research talk. Waves of tension roll over you, making you physically nauseated. "I was trained for experiments, not speeches!" you think. You start looking for a barf bagÉ Don't panic! To give you an upper hand over those butterflies in your stomach, we've compiled some techniques to make your next presentation your best ever.

Public speaking is an essential but neglected skill in science. The result is that good science gets shortchanged by talks that are boring, convoluted, or just plain bad. Read on to find out how to ensure your talk does justice to your research!

Know Your Audience - Before, During, After

One of the keys to giving a good talk is knowing your audience. Who is your audience? Anticipate what your audience will need and prepare your presentation accordingly. Scientists from outside your lab will need more background info than your labmates. A non-scientific audience needs a completely simplified approach with lots of analogies.

Know your material

Getting up in front of a crowd is already stressful. Why compound your stress by having poor command of your presentation materials? Avoid memorizing your talk word for word, but don't completely wing it -- both extremes create more anxiety. By being properly prepared, you'll relieve yourself of a great deal of stress.

Give your talk that extra polish

OK, so you know your audience and know your material. You've simplified and clarified and are ready to shine. Before you rush to the podium, here are some extra tips that a surprising number of scientists overlook but that make for a polished talk:

But, how do you get rid of that nauseating tension in the minutes before you go on? Well, an old trick taught in acting classes magically gets rid of tension: tense up every muscle in your body at once, hold for five seconds, then release. You'll be amazed at how your tension disappears! (But do this when no one's lookingÉ)

The next level

The best way to get better at speaking in public is to do more of it. Volunteer to do journal club presentations. Take a public speaking or drama class. Sign up for your local Toastmasters group. And be scientific about it: observe good speakers and absorb what makes them good, and conversely, observe bad speakers and avoid what makes them bad. Who knows? Maybe one day you'll actually like public speaking!

Last update: July 2000- Claude Aflalo
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